Making the Body Visible in Contemporary Japan: Femininity, Beauty, and the Female Form in Popular Culture

Title: 1272 | Making the Body Visible in Contemporary Japan: Femininity, Beauty, and the Female Form in Popular Culture
Area: Northeast Asia
Stream: Gender & Sexuality
Presentation Type: Panel Presentation
Laura Emily Clark, Showa Women's University, Japan (organizer, presenter, chair)
Caitlin Casiello, Yale University, United States (presenter)
Maria Ana Micaela Chua Manansala, University of Tsukuba, Japan (presenter)
Juliana Buriticá Alzate, International Christian University, Japan (presenter)
Yukari Yoshihara, University of Tsukuba, Japan (discussant)


In contemporary Japanese cultural products, what does it mean to be embodied? Whose bodies are made visible, how and why? How does one represent the ‘womanly’ body in contemporary Japan? What kind of body is desired and permissible? To explore these questions this panel takes a transdisciplinary approach to the construction and performance of ‘female body’ in film, literature, and cross-media adaptations. First, Caitlin Casiello will discuss how 1950s Revenge of the Pearl Queen created a unique moment of transition in Japanese film with the full-unclothed female body on display for the audience. Then, Mic Manansala will analyse manga adaptations of Goethe’s Faust in connection to the Takarazuka Revue’s play Angel’s Smile/Devil’s Tears, and with it the embodiment and performance of the feminine form. Juliana Buriticá Alzate will then compare the lead character in Kirino Natsuo’s Tokyo Island and its film adaptation, and how these works first challenge and then conform to female beauty standards. Finally, Laura Clark will explore the representation of femininity as embodied performance in Murata Sayaka’s Convenience Store Woman. Discussant Yukari Yoshihara will then offer insights from the perspective of gender in Japanese popular texts on the issues of desirable femininity, gaze, and transformation. In the complex interplay between sex and gender, the external signposting of female performance and costume is a matter of significant pressure. This is not merely a matter of woman-as-object, but rather of exposing intense conflicts between audience expectations of gender and the female form, and ecstatic moments of agency and change.

Panel Abstracts:
Embodying Femininity in Murata Sayaka’s Convenience Store Woman: Gender as Policed Performance
Questions of normality and social expectations are placed at the centre of Murata Sayaka’s (b. 1979) explosive and internationally acclaimed Convenience Store Woman (Konbini ningen, 2016; trans. 2018), however the specifically gendered nature of these issues is particularly striking. This paper argues that for the central character Furukura Keiko the successful ‘doing’ of adult womanhood is complex, embodied, and subject to significant scrutiny at all times. For Furukura, appropriate adult womanhood, is not just a matter of achieving (or failing to achieve) key milestones, but rather an intense matter of clothing, physicality, and voice. In the face of her own perceived shortcomings, Furukura’s femininity is utterly performative, and ever changing as she borrows traits and habits from the women of her world. Yet, her only success can be in the failure to be recognised, and as we see throughout the novel, the women in her life consistently challenge and police her performance, and whose expectations and recognition lead to moments of both compliance and conflict. Gendering is never done in isolation, but in this novel the internal and external pressures on women in contemporary Japan, and the distinctively embodied nature of them, are brought into harsh focus.

The Look of the Pearl Queen: Shin-Tōhō and Women’s Bodies in 1950s Film
Centering on the supposed first full nude shot in Japanese cinema in The Revenge of the Pearl Queen (dir. Shimura Toshio, 1956), this paper explores the shift from the elided nudity of Occupation-era and early 1950s films to the shocking sexuality of late 1950s films. When does a woman’s body, already on display through the suggestion and suture of striptease, become something which can be shown to the audience in actuality? Though critical attention has focused on the “Sun Tribe” films, starting with Crazed Fruit (dir. Nakahira Kō, 1956) as the forerunners of the Japanese New Wave for their youth and sexuality, these films were possible only within a broader expansion of the social and legal norms which determined how much of the naked body could be seen. Released only a week before Crazed Fruit, Pearl Queen is one of a number of low-budget films released by studio Shin Tōhō which used the promise of increased sexuality in order to court audiences. Pearl Queen articulates the complex regimes of viewing at play, with a heroine who gets her comeuppance against lascivious men even as the audience itself shares a gaze with the men who spy on her. Contextualized with earlier films on the subject of men-looking-at-women, Pearl Queen and its Shin Tōhō compatriots mark a moment when sexual visibility was in flux, part of what would ultimately be the rise of pink film and sexploitation in the 1960s.

Faust Angels: The Takarazuka Connection in Manga Adaptations of Goethe’s Faust Drama
With idols from Japanese boy band A.B.C.-Z cast in lead roles, Musical Faust ~Swordsmen of Love~ (2014) may be a more popular, openly declared adaptation of Osamu Tezuka’s Faust manga. Yet an earlier musical presents an intriguing, if less obvious, connection: in 1989, the Takarazuka Revue staged Angel’s Smile/Devil’s Tears, contributing to the Faust Myth’s reception in contemporary Japan as a romance directed towards a female audience. The all-female theatrical troupe’s influence on Tezuka is well-established, but the reverse is not well-explored; it can be observed that the musical and the manga bear similarities in their deviations from, or innovations on, Goethe’s Faust. Furthermore, such shifts found their way back to comic form when Chiho Saitō officially adapted Angel’s Smile/Devil’s Tears (1998) into shōjo manga. Employing a descriptive adaptation framework for literary analysis, my research investigates transformations of key figures in the Faust Myth. The present study focuses on comparing Tezuka’s and Saitō’s manga adaptations laterally, keeping in sight the polysystemic scope of their sources and genre-memberships. I look into how femininity is narrativized and re-assigned among characters—as when Margareta is given narrative primacy or Mephistopheles is cast as a female sorceress—or even metatextually, given the impact of Takarazuka Revue’s distinctive aesthetics on manga. Beyond gender-bending, these transfigurations impact how salvation—central to Goethe’s “Eternal Feminine”—is granted through female intercession and, perhaps surprisingly, to whom that salvation is granted in each subsequent retelling.

Conflicting Femininities in Tokyo Island: From a Survivor to a Film Star
The works by Kirino Natsuo (b. 1951) deal with the politics of gender, sexuality, race, class, and pay special attention to the oppression of women in society. Kirino’s Tokyo Island (Tokyo jima, 2008) incorporates the precariat literary motif in its plot as it deals with fragile relationships, harsh working conditions, and takes place in the post-bubble, neoliberalist Japan. This setting—shared by many other of her works—together with her awareness of socioeconomic inequality has granted her a place within contemporary proletarian literature. In the context of financial instability and irregular job market, in order to survive, female bodies are often treated as exploitable commodities, as is portrayed in Tokyo Island. This paper explores the depiction of Kiyoko, both in the novel and in its film adaptation (2010) by director Shinozaki Makoto from a critical feminist perspective. In Kirino’s novel Kiyoko is a non-conventional heroine who shifts from victim to survivor. In particular, I look at the treatment of beauty and sexuality in relation to new constructions of femininity and maternity. In the novel, Kiyoko is depicted as a fat, not good-looking yet attractive, selfish, manipulative, middle-aged woman. In stark contrast, Shinozaki chose famous star Tae Kimura (b. 1971) for this role; she conveys youth and beauty, and thus, femininity in the film conforms to ideal standards of beauty. I question how the different ways of articulating femininity affect the connection and feelings of empathy and non-empathy with Kiyoko, as literary character and film subject, and how subversive these depictions are

This panel is on Tuesday - Session 02 - Room 8

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